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We cannot afford to let our ‘best last chance’ slip away

By Contributor

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Walker and Arktos at play at the Highland Wildlife Park.
Walker and Arktos at play at the Highland Wildlife Park.

The whole world has been watching Glasgow as world leaders, politicians, ambassadors and enviromental activists gather to push for ambitious action to tackle the climate crisis.

Heralded as ‘our last best chance’ by COP (Conference of the Parties) President Alok Sharma, we need to see bold, collaborative and swift action on a global scale if we want to secure our future on this planet.

For us as a wildlife conservation charity, climate change and biodiversity loss are two sides of the same coin, neither can be addressed effectively in isolation.

The natural environment is in crisis, with one million species on the brink of extinction and almost half of its ecosystems in decline.

With this, nature’s resilience and its ability to adapt is also massively reduced.

It is our collective actions that are decimating the planet and the lives and homes of the species we share it with, and pledges to cut emissions must be closely followed with restorative nature-based solutions.

The devastating effects of climate change are evident in many of the wild habitats of the animals we care for, and zoos like ours are a unique asset to conservationists working on the ground and environmentalists trying to rally community action.

Connecting our supporters, members and patrons to nature, both its wonder and its plight, is our mission.

Not only do our visitors provide crucial funding to save species from extinction, but our in-house experts can share their knowledge and resources and our accessible sites can forge an emotional connection that field projects just cannot replicate.

From droughts and fires in Brazil, to warming seas and melting ice caps in the Arctic, as ambassadors for their species, the animals at Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh Zoo are key in helping tell the story of what is happening to our natural world, why it matters and inspiring people to get involved and commit to change.

Polar bears, perhaps the original ambassador for the fight against climate change, will likely be extinct in the wild before the next century unless we do something to save their melting habitat.

Seeing our polar bears, Victoria, Arktos and Walker, up close brings the urgency of the climate crisis right in front of our visitors’ eyes and gives us a special opportunity to turn their empathy into action.

We tell the stories of elusive giant armadillos, known as ‘ecosystem engineers’, creating habitats for several other animals and benefitting the overall health of their environment.

We’ve worked with the Giant Armadillo Conservation Project in Brazil for over a decade, during which time we’ve seen how wildlife and local communities are losing their lives and livelihoods in record-breaking droughts and raging wildfires that have become the norm rather than the exception.

Cop26 may have had the headlines for the past fortnight but what we want to see is commitment long beyond that and a recognition that helping nature is helping ourselves.

From Scotland to the Arctic and Brazil, we’ve never been more connected and in need of each other.

David Field is chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland which owns the Highland Wildlife Park by Kincraig.

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